Saturday, May 15, 2010

How did I get here?

A recent post at Atheist Revolution got me to thinking about how people fall into their religion ... or their lack thereof. I think a lot of religious people assume that atheists and agnostics have a falling out or "crisis of faith". At least from my personal experience and from having read a lot of your experiences, this is not the case. From Atheist Revolution:

"... To be fair to both my mother and to myself, I suspect that I would be an atheist today regardless of whether she had imposed church upon me. The way my mind works and my love of science from an early age probably would have led me away from superstition regardless of my church experience."

That's not that different from where my atheism came from, though that writer seems to have a little more animosity towards the parents. Here, I'm going to try and analyze the different reasons on why someone would be an atheist and how they apply to me:

Were our parents atheists and we are just following in their steps? In my case, not exactly. I was baptised Methodist. My parents took us to church when we were young (6 or 7 and younger). But I think this was done more to appease a grandfather (my dad's dad) who was very religious. Our attendance only seemed to happen when we lived in the same town as my grandfather.

My parents never talked about God, though we always had a bible in the house. But, conversely, we were never pushed away from religion either. I even remember saying prayers before going to bed every night. We probably did this until I was about 10. It didn't seem weird to me at the time, but it also didn't really seem spiritual. Just another daily ritual like brushing your teeth and giving your parents a kiss before going to bed.

I think that is a big part of my realization at a fairly young age that I didn't believe in God. Religious rituals like going to church, praying, etc. seemed like just that ... rituals. There was no spark. There was no feeling of a divine connection. I was doing the things because society made you feel like that was "normal".

Were our parents screwed-up Christians and that pushed us away from religion? That wasn't the case either. They certainly weren't devout but they also weren't sitting around railing on the church. Simply, my folks just never talked about religion or politics. I know it's wacky, but they thought their job was to provide a home, food, education, boundaries and to encourage their children. Parents are doing a disservice to their kids if they feel they have a mandate to do anything else. When you see kids holding "God Hates Fags" signs or you see a movie like Jesus Camp, how is that kind of parenting not child abuse?

Did I have a "crisis of faith"? That is a popular assumption - that all people are born religious and something pushes them away from it. I think this is a lot rarer than than most people would believe. Just because someone may have been born into a religious family and may have went to church does not mean that they ever believed in God.

They are not "losing" faith but rather gaining a confidence that they can express the fact that they never believed in the first place. In the current climate in the U.S., that is not a trivial occurrence. Society, as you may have noticed, does not embrace atheists.

I cannot personally speak for the opposite - for those people who may have been born without religion or went through atheist phases and then "found" religion. I would suspect that the situation is similar in that they always had faith but it took awhile for them to come around to that realization. But, I'm sure there are those that truly did not believe in God but later changed.

What about those that were born Christian and readily admit that they believed in God but had a change of heart? This would seem to be fairly common and not to just run-of-the-mill types that never go to church. It can even happen to the most devout (bible scholar Bart Ehrman, for example).

Those cases seem to born of education or, at the very least, a removal from limiting environments where they would not know of alternatives. Ex-Mormons would certainly fit into this category, though not all Ex-Mormons give up a faith in God in general.

People may leave the church, but not leave God. Even Christians would have to admit that organized religion can be pretty fucked up -- priests buggering young boys and churches who seem more concerned with raising money that with raising souls. If these particular instances also cause people to leave God altogether, that has more to do with people not understanding how a caring God could allow those situations to happen. And you would have no argument from me on that one. How, indeed?

So, I do not believe in God. I never did. I did not give up God because something bad happened or because someone told me to. God did not make sense to me even before I could intellectually grasp why. When my education caught up with my intuition, it merely confirmed what I already knew.

God was yet another societal construct that was put in place to help me stay in line, like a teacher, or a policeman. Something to ease my fears of death. No more than that. I'm not afraid of death. I am afraid of believing something just because it is convenient and comforting. But, that's just me. This was my path. This is how I got "here".

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?" -- Epicurus


wunelle said...

So much of my experience parallels yours. I was born into a family which practiced religion as a kind of social default. My dad was in the church choir and being in the church was part of being a civic leader. He was also big in the Jaycees and Lions and so on. I also prayed--at my parents' behest--before meals and at bedtimes, but these were never sold to us as things which tapped into literal truth so much as being just things one did in the world. Just as you say.

My dad died young and my mom remarried (even as a kid I realized that praising god if he had "saved" my dad's life and not blaming him for my dad dying with three young kids was a cop-out), and over time we just stopped going and praying and such. By the time I was about 15 I realized that none of it added up; it was obvious that we were playing a little game. It was false, and I'm convinced that we all knew it was false, but we contrived reasons for thinking it better to act the role than discard it. By the time I got to college I just gave up the whole charade.

I think the "crisis of faith" business cuts both ways. Religious folks may use this as an explanation for why a person rejects their chosen faith, but in private they will admit to their own faith being a kind of continual crisis (honestly, what sentient person could hold onto this without doubt?). Their solution is to use their doubts as an opportunity to continuously re-affirm their hopes and call the whole business "certainty."

This is why the church needs to get 'em young (well, the Catholic church has several reasons, it appears): it's important to set the emotional hooks before the rational faculties are developed and working.

CyberKitten said...

Interesting. I might just have to something like this myself... [muses]

dbackdad said...

Wunelle said, " ... none of it added up; it was obvious that we were playing a little game. It was false, and I'm convinced that we all knew it was false, but we contrived reasons for thinking it better to act the role than discard it ..." -- Well put.

CK -- I'd be immensely interested in reading that (as am I all of your "Thinking about:" ruminations).